“The role of Mastercard is to offer choice in terms of means of payment, including cryptocurrencies”

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Le Journal du Net is a partner of the Mastercard Innovation Forum 2022, scheduled for December 8 in Paris. Senior Vice President of Mastercard, Martin Etheridge details at JDN the outlines of Mastercard’s strategy with cryptocurrencies and NFT.

Martin Etheridge, senior vice president of Mastercard. © Mastercard

JDN. Raj Dhamodharan, Executive Vice President of Mastercard, recently published an article titled “How to turn cryptocurrencies into an everyday means of payment?” How does Mastercard invest in this crypto ecosystem?

Martin Etheridge. I think we have to start with our role, which is to offer customers a choice in terms of means of payment, and this, in a secure way. A Mastercard crypto payment card allows users to use their available balance on their cryptocurrency wallet using our secure network in real time. Likewise, if they want to use a Mastercard card issued by a bank and make a purchase on a cryptocurrency exchange platform, it is their choice and they are able to do so. It is the bank’s responsibility to know their customer and we have a set of tools available to our card issuers to analyze user activity and behavior in terms of cryptocurrencies.

Mastercard is now a partner of many cryptocurrency payment platforms. Do you see a growing consumer appetite for the use of these active ingredients?

We are indeed seeing significant growth in consumer interest: our Mastercard Global New Payment Index highlights that a third of users worldwide have already made an investment in crypto-assets. In Europe the figure is slightly lower but what is interesting is the proportion of the population who intend to increase their use of cryptocurrencies in the future and this is a higher rate than the number of current users. What we have seen is a desire by users to enter this type of market with a trusted infrastructure, which is why we announced on October 18 a partnership with Paxos to allow banks to make certain purchases and holdings of cryptoassets for their users, using the functions that Mastercard is able to provide.

In 2018, when you were head of the fintech and digital currencies division at the Bank of England, you stood before the House of Commons with a clear distinction between technology and crypto-assets. Is that still a line you share today, now that you’re at Mastercard?

Indeed, it is absolutely necessary in my opinion to understand the different types of cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets available. Over the past two years, we have seen a significant growth in the use of blockchain technology, for example with NFTs, which are inherently very different from most cryptocurrencies, which are fungible in nature. In fact, I still agree with what I said before: it is very important to understand the different characteristics of the different assets that are underpinned by these technologies and their modes of use in the markets.

“We are following the subject of the digital euro very closely”

What about CBDCs (central bank digital currencies)? Do you think that Europe is behind on this subject?

No, i dont think so. We have seen a lot of documents, research from European institutions such as the European Parliament and the European Commission: there is a real desire to analyze the subject of the digital euro and this is something that we are following closely.

Could we imagine a non-private solution from Mastercard in the future?

I cannot list all the products about to be released at Mastercard, but I can quote our head of cybersecurity who regularly says: “Trust is the heart of our business”. We want to support our customers as they seek new ways to pay using the trust and security provided by our payment network.

How does Mastercard design the metaverse?

It is already possible to make payments with a Mastercard in the metaverse; many metaverse applications such as buying NFTs can be performed with a Mastercard. We also organized events in the metaverse and we are very proud of them, I am thinking in particular of the celebrations of diversity (the Your True Self is Priceless campaign in Decentraland and Horizon Worlds in June 2022, editor’s note). It’s hard to predict how far this will go but we are very curious and excited to explore different ways to support the payments infrastructure there in a secure way.

A graduate in economics from the University of Bristol, Martin Etheridge began his professional career as an executive at the Financial Conduct Authority, the British equivalent of the AMF, in 2001. In 2011, he joined the Bank of England where he took the responsibility of the regulation department before taking the reins of the digital currencies department until 2020, the year of his departure for Mastercard. In January 2022, he became vice-president in charge of product development, blockchain and digital currencies.

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